First, you took it personally…
The canine you approached and wanted to take home scoffed at you.
But then, you finally stopped looking at it from a human perspective…
You realized that the dog’s scared…
Then it makes you wonder, how can you turn things around and make them trust you?
Read on to discover:
- How to use training methods properly to a fearful dog.
- 3 reminders when petting a scared dog that you want to trust you.
- 17 most effective ways to get an afraid dog to trust you (#15 is important).
- And much, much, more…
Table of contents
- How do you get a scared dog to trust you?
- 17 ways to get a scared dog to trust you
- #1: Know their history
- #2: Empathize with them
- #3: Recognize their triggers
- #4: Stay calm around them
- #5: Remain patient
- #6: Respect their space
- #7: Follow their pace
- #8: Get on their level
- #9: Avoid eye contact
- #10: Watch where you pet them
- #11: Let your presence speak
- #12: Play, play, play
- #13: Use counter conditioning
- #14: Desensitization training
- #15: Establish a routine
- #16: Ensure positive interactions
- #17: Provide a safe zone
- #BONUS: Consult a professional
How do you get a scared dog to trust you?
Get a scared dog to trust you by remaining patient with them. You have to follow their pace. Once they’re ready, you have to watch how you act around them. To ensure continuous improvement, you should train them gradually. During all this, you must remain sensitive with your dog.
17 ways to get a scared dog to trust you
#1: Know their history
As the more rational being, you must do your homework to know the dog.
It’s best to know their history. With that, you get to understand where the dog’s coming from…
It serves both meanings.
You get to know their place of origin.
On the other hand, you’ll also know what the dog has been through.
Is your dog scared because you beat them? Or are they fearful because they’re a victim of abuse?
Are they only scared because they have anxiety?
By being familiar with such, you’ll know how to handle your canine better.
You also get familiar with what to expect from them.
Warning: Be ready because it might not be a sweet story.
Dog parents report that their adopted canine’s backstory made them dwell. It’s because they get to share such weight and trauma with their pups.
Despite that, knowing will help you in the process of gaining the dog’s trust.
Here are some things you might want to ask:
Question #1: “What are they scared of?”
Question #2: “How do they react in a new or strange environment?”
Question #3: “How do they react around other animals?”
Question #4: “Will they be shy at first?”
Question #5: “Why are they scared?”
If these questions are answered, you can help ensure the best environment around the dog.
Did you know? A concerning number of 70 million dogs get abused per year.
That data only counts cases from the USA. What more if we’re to count every single one worldwide?
Continue reading: 7 Weird Reasons Why Your Dog Is Acting Scared + Tips
#2: Empathize with them
After knowing the dog’s history, it’s time for the next step…
It’s to empathize with them. See it from Fido’s perspective.
There’s a popular saying that goes:
“Put yourself in their shoes…”
It aims to make you think about how you would feel if it happened to you.
So, what had the dog you want to trust you have gone through?
How do you feel about such an experience?
And most importantly, as a human, you get to ask:
“How can I make them feel better?”
And sometimes, such a task can be impossible to achieve instantly.
So, you also ask these:
“How can I show them I care? How can I show them that they can trust me?”
The answer to that last question might be the reason why you’re reading right now.
And on behalf of that fearful dog, thank you.
It’s because this shows that you’re willing to try for them
#3: Recognize their triggers
Now you’re aware, and you empathize with the dog…
There’s more to do on behalf of the scared pup.
And that’s to recognize their triggers.
You know where they got their fear from…
Now, what objects or actions are related to it?
If their fear is due to trauma, this is something to ask:
What makes them remember the fearful experience?
Once you know, you could avoid those as much as possible. That’s because anything related to it might trigger a fearful reaction.
Right now, you might still be walking in the dark around this area.
So, here are examples of things that can make dogs feel fear. This is a general list from the Merck Vet Manual:
- Loud noises.
- Unfamiliar people.
- New environment.
- Visual stimuli like mirrors and hats.
- Unusual surfaces for your dog (like wood floors).
- Specific situations like car rides as it indicates going to the vet.
- Combination stimuli like a loud and odd-looking vacuum cleaner.
And to make sure, PetMD gives us these signs of fear in dogs:
- Jumping due to nervousness.
- Walking away or trying to escape.
- Panting without any recent activity.
- Licking their paws, which is an attempt to calm themself.
#4: Stay calm around them
If a dog is scared, you don’t want to add to what they’re feeling.
With that, you must remain calm around them.
You have to control the loudness of your voice. So, it’s best to keep your tone down.
Even if you’re not directly speaking to them…
Still, keep your voice light.
That’s because Fido might be startled by any loud sounds.
Moreover, you should also watch your actions around them.
When the dog’s near you, be careful how you behave.
Examples are don’t stop and run with them around.
Such actions can surprise Fido. With that, those reactions can add to their existing fear.
So, as much as possible, be calm around the scared dog. Prevent from speaking loudly and moving abruptly.
#5: Remain patient
An old proverb says, “Patience is a virtue.”
It means that you have to tolerate time to gain something worth it.
So, remain patient with the scared dog. They’re worth it…
Moreover, they need it from you.
Healing from what they’re going through takes time. And such a process doesn’t happen overnight.
If they’re a victim of abuse, it might be a challenging situation to run from.
With that, it’s harder for them to trust a human again.
For some dogs, trusting another human could take a short time. For others, it can take a long while to regain confidence…
However, it’s not impossible for a dog to start trusting you.
You can remain hopeful that you’d gain their trust, too …
All that you have to do is to remain patient…
Reading tip: 21 Signs Your Dog Fully Trusts You (With His Life!)
#6: Respect their space
You enter an elevator, and you’re the only person there yet.
Internally, you’re a little afraid of elevators. For you, it’s a confined space with strings bringing you up or down…
That aside, the elevator stops at a floor. There, someone enters…
However, instead of occupying the other end, they stand close to you!
It might be a foot away or really close…
Regardless, they could’ve taken the corner on the other side.
I give this scenario to understand what the dog might be feeling. Even though it’s entirely different…
Fido is a living being who needs their space, too. Then, they’re currently feeling scared.
That’s two things to adjust for the pup.
Moreover, that need for space also requires respect.
So, while the dog’s feeling scared, give them space. Provide them with that need for as long as necessary.
And it may indeed take a long time…
But one day, Fido will eventually invite you to their space and trust you. As I said in the previous section, remain patient.
So, while you wait, here’s what you can do to give a scared dog some space successfully:
- No touching them for a while.
- Don’t stand too close to them.
- It’s best to ignore them for the meantime.
- Don’t force any interactions, like making them go out for a walk with you.
#7: Follow their pace
While you remain patient and respect their space, there might be one question in you:
“What exactly am I waiting for?”
You’re waiting for FIdo to make a move.
And that move, they’ll show you in their own chosen time.
With that, aside from being patient and respectful of their space, there’s another thing to do:
It’s to follow your dog’s pace.
So, wait a while for the dog to approach you.
It might be a small event for you.
Oh, but for them?
It’s something that took a lot of their strength to do.
Once they approach you, it might be of these 2 things:
The first one is they’ll lick your hand, too.
Such a gesture means that they’re ready to accept you.
The second one is when they still show signs of fear.
Fido’s ears might be pulled back and their eyes are looking up from you. The latter is when they have the so-called ‘whale eyes.’
In this instance, the scared pooch is still doubtful. However, they’re showing you that they’re willing to try.
Regardless of which it is between the two, you must keep following their pace.
Don’t do anything big yet.
Introduce things to them gradually. I’ll elaborate more in the following sections of the article…
#8: Get on their level
You have to show the dog that you’re not there for confrontation…
So, you must reveal that you come in peace.
Moreover, this is also what you can do when the dog finally approaches you.
Because humans are larger than dogs, our size intimidates them.
That’s why you have to get on their level. By doing so, you won’t scare them even more.
You can do so by kneeling on their side.
Once you do, face the same direction they’re facing.
Note: It’s essential to place yourself on their side and not in front.
Remember, you’re already in the dog’s personal space.
Leveling in front of them might make them uncomfortable and more afraid.
But, if you’re on their side, they’ll know that your intentions are genuine.
With that, they might start to trust you…
#9: Avoid eye contact
Sure, research says that eye contact with dogs can be a sign of love.
It’s because it releases oxytocin and strengthens your relationship…
However, you’re not there yet with the frightened pooch.
You’re still in the middle of gaining their trust.
With that, it’s best to avoid eye contact for a while.
That’s because dogs are sensitive to eye contact. It’ll take years of bond and many memories to stop them from being that way…
So, for the scared pooch, such a gesture can be threatening.
AKC says it’s from the time old dogs spent in the wild. More specifically, it’s seen when a dog practices resource guarding.
So, avoid seeing them eye-to-eye for a while. If you don’t, it might cost you the progress you’ve already made with them…
#10: Watch where you pet them
Since dogs can’t speak, there are many alternative ways that they communicate.
This research talks about one of those.
It’s called tactile communication, which involves physical touch.
In the study, researchers mentioned one thing:
It’s that tactile communication only lasts for a short time in dogs. In fact, they only use it rarely when with another canine.
Then, the authors say that humans start most tactile interactions.
Due to our intervention, the interaction lasts longer…
It’s also more extensive than what our canine companions enjoy…
Moreover, the way you interact with them physically is crucial, too.
Sometimes, dogs are bothered by the way that you communicate with them physically.
Now back to your scared dog…
If they’re slowly accepting your presence, they’ll let you pet them.
But like I said, physically interacting with a dog can be crucial.
With that, you’ll have to be more careful with a scared dog. So, you’ll have to watch the way you pet them.
Things to remember when petting a scared dog
Reminder #1: Don’t go for a hug!
It feels restricting on the dog’s end.
Moreover, Dr. Stanley Coren’s research tells us that dogs don’t like hugs.
I know. It’s unfortunate news for dog huggers out there…
He came to that conclusion when he studied photographs of hugged dogs.
Results show 81% of the subjects display signs of stress or anxiety.
Reminder #2: Avoid petting their head as well. Most dogs don’t like that kind of interaction.
Reminder #3: The safe parts to pet them are under their chin or on their chest.
#11: Let your presence speak
Since the dog is scared, expect them to be less responsive.
Even though they’ve approached you, they’re still bound to be like that.
With that, you can still try to talk to them.
Test the waters first by talking to them a little bit.
You need to use a soft voice. You can also use the well-known ‘baby talking.’
If it didn’t yield any results…
Instead, you can enjoy that moment with the doubtful pup.
Let them know you’re there regardless…
Note: Unless they approach you and want you close, still keep the space between you.
So, let your presence speak amidst the silence.
Most of all, calm your body to send the right message to the scared canine.
#12: Play, play, play
This is a great next step if the dog’s slowly accepting you.
So far, I’ve talked about signs in this article. To save you from scrolling, those signs are:
- Approaching you.
- Licking your hands.
- Letting you pet them.
Now, it’s time to hit two birds with one stone.
You get the dog’s courage back and gain their trust.
Simply through playing.
Such activities are important for a dog and their human parent.
That’s because playing is a positive experience for both parties.
It creates memories to cherish and increases a dog’s obedience. It also lets you build a relationship with them.
Note: Make sure to keep plays calm for a while, especially at the start.
You don’t have to exert so much effort to call it ‘play’ with a dog.
Simply engaging with them while they nibble a chew toy counts.
Moreover, you can make use of easy games.
Games for a fearful pooch
Game #1: The plate game.
In this, you’ll only need their bowl and a few treats.
Set a plate or their bowl between the two of you.
Make sure there’s a distance between you, Fido, and their bowl, which is the game’s ‘plate.’
Drop a few treats on the plate and wait for Fido to approach.
After they finish that round of treats, they’ll either do 2 things:
They might go back to the spot that they started. The other thing they’ll do is look at you for a while or at your hand.
Regardless of which, put more on the plate.
Game #2: Provide them with a stimulating interactive toy.
Such toys give mental stimulation to a canine. They’ll also consider it as a form of play as it includes challenges.
A widely recommended interactive toy is Kong Wobbler that dispenses treats.
You can also let them try this beginner interactive dog puzzle. It includes easy obstacles that hide kibbles.
Game #3: The treat hunt.
Hide and seek might be on your mind…
But that might cause the dog to be startled once they find you.
So, do a treat hunt instead.
Not only is it fun, but it also provides a positive experience for them.
As long as treats are associated, they’ll find the interaction rewarding.
#13: Use counter conditioning
This is a safe way of letting a dog face their fear.
And what they might fear is you. Sometimes it’s not directly you, it’s the idea that you might be a threat…
Regardless of which reason, that fear stands in the way of making them trust you.
Luckily, there’s a means to change the way your dog looks at what they dread.
It’s a method called counterconditioning.
Did you know? This research tells us this method is highly supported by vets and behaviorists.
They recommend it more than punishment.
Honestly, such could be effective. The problem is the negative effects that punishment brings on a dog’s well-being.
Now, back to counterconditioning…
It’s a way of changing your dog’s idea towards their fear.
Instead of thinking about it negatively, you’ll train them into thinking something else…
And that’s associating rewards with their fear stimulus. With that, they’ll consider every exposure as a positive experience.
So, pair every fearful situation with something that your dog loves. The best way to go is to use treats.
If your dog is scared of you, be a treat dispenser in their eyes.
Whenever you come near, drop a treat for them…
After a little time, they’ll stop seeing you as something scary.
Instead, they’ll think of you as a chance to get lucky with treats.
#14: Desensitization training
Vets recommend using this method along with counterconditioning.
After the previous method, you can use desensitization next.
It’s because you can’t always stay a few feet away from scared Fido…
So, once they’re conditioned, they’ll wait for you to give them a treat.
But now, you move closer to them.
Little steps at a time…
Don’t immediately get close to them.
Try the technique for every step.
Give them a treat every time you get closer.
Do it gradually until they let you near. Then once you’re close to them, see if there are any signs of fear.
If signs are persistent, continue using this method carefully.
It’s important to be delicate during this process. Being too close in one try can get you back to zero.
Take your time. Again, remain patient.
You can use desensitization until you can get close and not scare the dog.
#15: Establish a routine
What comes into your mind when you hear the word ‘routine’?
It’s an important practice in life. It provides structure and the feeling of calm to our days.
However, for others, it means dullness and boredom…
But for dogs, the latter never crosses their mind.
That’s because they’re creatures of habits that thrive on routine.
It keeps them from going to “survival mode,” which their ancestors in the wild used to practice.
Back then, they don’t fully rely on humans for food, shelter, and nurturing.
Now that dogs are domesticated, they’re dependent on humans. And along that dependency to us comes the reliance on a routine.
That’s why PetMD warns dog parents. Vets say that even small changes in a dog’s life can trigger depression.
Yes, that’s how valuable familiarity is to dogs!
That even replacing a couch can cause them to be extremely sad.
With that, routine is equally valuable to dog parents.
Getting accustomed to practice can lead to a more obedient dog. It also makes your pooch well-behaved.
But, it’s more important for scared dogs.
If the canine is afraid due to trauma, they’ll appreciate your predictability.
That’s because their past was irregular. Such a setup causes them extreme stress.
They had to go through their days not knowing what to expect.
Will they receive a beating? Is there any food available for them today?
Such questions to think about are stressful.
So, as I said earlier, routines give us all a sense of calm.
That’s why it’ll be beneficial to a scared dog. It’s like a breeze of hope for them…
And if you’re the provider of this predictability, you can gain their trust.
They’ll feel comfortable with you…
Even so much that they’ll look forward to spending the day with you.
Here are things to include on a dog’s regular schedule:
- Potty and wee breaks.
- Alone time for your dog.
- Training time and commands.
#16: Ensure positive interactions
Everything else will be in vain if you don’t do this…
You must ensure that you keep interactions positive with a scared dog.
It might be hard at first. But it’s only that way if you focus on things you can’t control…
With that, you can try for yourself and for Fido.
It could be the little things that are on your hands…
You could avoid stressful situations for them. Also, you shouldn’t force them to do anything they’re not comfortable with yet.
Then, make sure not to scold or punish them ever.
You must provide all of those and more.
That regardless if the world gives off negative interactions for them…
In the end, you’ll be there for the frightful canine.
So, as much as possible, ensure that the pooch would be happy beside you.
With that, they’ll associate you with calm, positivity, and fun.
Little by little, you’ll be their solace that they trust.
#17: Provide a safe zone
In your house, your room might be your safe place.
There, you can recharge, enjoy moments alone, think…
There’s so much to do in that safe zone…
That’s why you might understand a fearful dog’s need for such.
You must provide them with a safe zone in your place.
It can be their dog bed in the corner or a crate. Make sure it’s settled in a place where there’s less traffic…
Somewhere that they could really be alone.
They’ll appreciate it if the day becomes too much for them to handle. It’s useful when they need to retreat.
Once they’re settled in there, they’ll feel a sense of relief. Then, they’ll calm down and relax.
This is ideal for Fido after you train them using desensitization and counterconditioning.
Think about it…
They faced their fears during those training sessions. They deserve to be comfortable after.
Moreover, bombarding them with so much more than they can handle could be cruel. It could also lead to them being more frightened.
Remember: Dogs are living beings with limits, too.
#BONUS: Consult a professional
If their fear persists, you can consult a professional behaviorist.
Trained professionals analyze a dog’s behaviors.
Tell them about Fido’s history and your observations. Then, open that you want to gain the dog’s trust.
There, the behaviorist can make a specific system for handling the pooch. They aim to help you make the situation better.
You can ask a vet for an animal behaviorist recommendation. If you prefer, you can also do your own research.